Tuesday 16 January 2018

Budget battle over who gets 1916 money

Donohoe in 'very difficult' talks with fellow ministers

Battle: Heather Humphreys. Picture: Tom Burke
Battle: Heather Humphreys. Picture: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Rural Affairs Minister Heather Humphreys is in a Budget battle to turn a one-off allocation she received for 1916 commemorations into an annual payment.

Ms Humphreys and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe are at odds over the money given to her department to fund the centenary commemorations.

It comes as Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar stalled signing off on his deal with Mr Donohoe, insisting he needs more money as a result of the €150m being eaten up by a €5 hike in the old-age pension.

It is understood that Mr Varadkar has received some backing from members of the Independent Alliance - who want a package of measures that would include increases in the fuel allowance and the return of the Bereavement Grant.

Sources say a "game of hardball" was underway ahead of a Cabinet meeting to finalise the key Budget details, which will take place at 6.30pm today.

Mr Donohoe said last night that he is "in the middle of very difficult discussions at the moment with a variety of colleagues".

But he remains "confident" that Budget 2017 will be passed next week and that it will be "fair and will have a positive and good effect on our society and economy".

The Irish Independent understands that Ms Humphreys has told her colleague that she cannot afford to lose all of the €56m that was assigned to her department for 1916 events.

Sources said there is an acceptance all that money cannot be retained for arts and rural development, but the minister wants at least the €18m that was assigned for day-to-day spending on 1916 events.

Read more: Budget 2017: Last-minute demand to reduce funeral costs for grieving families

Key aspects of the rural affairs budget will include at least another €4m for the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, commitments on broadband funding and a pilot scheme to encourage more people to live in town centres.

Junior Minister Michael Ring has also met with Mr Donohoe to seek increases in funding for programmes under his remit, such as Clár and RAPID.

Sources said there is a big push for other ministers to 'rural proof' their own budgets.

"The minister is conscious that rural affairs shouldn't just be seen as an issue for one department and a key part of her budget plan is to impress that on her colleagues," the source said.

The health budget was last night close to being finalised, while Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has agreed her much-anticipated childcare package.

Sources said she was "pleased" with the outcome but her officials now have to work on the exact thresholds at which working families will qualify for the subsidy.

In the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny hit out at Sinn Féin's alternative budget, describing it as "the most fantastic document that I have read in recent years".

He said they boasted about sorting out "all of the problems of Ireland" and "provide money for every single problem that had existed".

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learnt Labour Party finance spokeswoman Joan Burton submitted a range of costing to the Department of Finance to determine the increased revenues that would be generated if every company operating in Ireland had to pay a minimum effective tax rate.

The former Tánaiste will today claim that such a move would have gone a long way towards restoring Ireland's reputation overseas but the Department refused to cost the proposals.

In their pre-Budget submission, Labour have argued against spending one-third of the available funding on tax cuts that will in many cases amount to "less than the price of a cup of coffee".

Their submission includes free dental treatment for working people and large investment in childcare.

The Independent Alliance are due to meet with Mr Donohoe and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe today in order to finalise their package.

The two ministers will also hold a final meeting with Fianna Fáil.

Irish Independent

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